Black Gemstone by Stéphane Humbert Lucas walks a fine line between scary to sexy. It's a heavy and opaque fragrance, all wood, incense, and birch tar. The "Black" in its name is fully justified, especially during the part of the perfume development that feels like you're walking right through a smoky room. In that dark chaos you might fear stumbling into things and sharp objects, which seem to swirl all around you in a chaotic pattern. Once you find your stride and the smoke becomes less tarry and rubbery and you start to see flickers of light shining through and guiding your way.
I confess that sometimes I over-apply, if I'm distracted or have simply forgotten how potent Black Gemstone really is. It takes longer to settle on my skin into the sweet incense, myrrh, and tonka bean, making the foreboding atmosphere of burning black tires in a back alley that much more intense. Is this part of the vision Stéphane Humbert Lucas had for this perfume? It reminds me of the story behind the 1969 Guy Bourdin image I used above. The visual, created by Serge Lutens during his tenure as a makeup artist, was done by completely covering the models in glue from head to toe before applying the black gems. What Bourdin and Lutens didn't realize was that they were in fact suffocating the poor girls, who passed out from lack of oxygen. While various assistants rushed to remove the layers of glue and shiny beads, Bourdin, who's gained a reputation of a model abuser, is reported to have said "Oh, it would be beautiful - to have them dead in bed!". Four photos from the two-day shoot were used for the Christmas issue of Vogue Paris. The one with the unconscious models made the cover.
I've known I was going to use this photo for my Black Gemstone review for a very long time. I love how it connects Serge Lutens to the narrative. His own Serge Noire is a fierce smoky incense that can also be a bit suffocating, especially as it's extremely redolent of spices that seem to have been scorched. While there's no mention of any spice in the note list of the Stéphane Humbert Lucas perfume, I'm pretty sure that I smell a good dose of saffron. It makes me anticipate an appearance of saffron's close companion, rose, but it never comes. Instead, the softer side of Black Gemstone is characterized by sweet fresh incense and tonka bean. This is where the perfume really shines.
Something happens on skin at a certain point. Each one of the major notes: myrrh, wood, incense, and tonka begins to sparkle. They are separated from each other and identifiable just before amalgamating into a sensual scent, delectable and inviting. It lasts forever and a day, and as you can imagine will fumigate the environment if one is not careful. Sometimes, though, it's fun to live dangerously.
Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777- Black Gemstone ($290, 50ml eau de parfum) is available from OsswaldNYC and Luckyscent.
Photograph by Guy Bourdin for Vogue Paris, 1969.